What is the minimum it takes to get into heaven? – A Guest Post from Bill Mounce

Bill Mounce on November 10th, 2011. Tagged under .

Bill Mounce

Bill is the founder and President of BiblicalTraining.org, serves on the Committee for Bible Translation (which is responsible for the NIV translation of the Bible), and has written the best-selling biblical Greek textbook, Basics of Biblical Greek, and many other Greek resources. He blogs regularly on Greek and issues of spiritual growth. Learn more about Bill's Greek resources at BillMounce.com.

MouncewLife is a journey. Life is a hike from our City of Destruction to the Celestial City. But no matter how the journey unfolds along the path, it has a beginning point. In Jesus’ imagery, the journey begins at the gate. In my imagery, the hike begins at the trailhead.

Everyone’s trailhead is a little different. For some, we started the journey on our mother’s knee at a young age. For others it starts after a difficult time in the teenage years, and perhaps in the midst of those difficult times you met a friend who started to walk with you. For others the trailhead is much later, after you have sampled life and found it lacking. Our trailheads can often look quite different.

However all of our trailheads have many things in common, and today I want to talk about what we all have in common. As you start your journey as a follower of Jesus, or if you are just thinking about it, or if you are walking with a new traveler, it is important that we have the same understanding of what the trailhead looks like; otherwise it will become confusing on down the path.

One of the defining moments in my life was when I was in graduate school. I was waiting for the bus, and a young coed asked if I was one of those “Divinity” students. (That’s what it is called in Scotland.) I said yes, and she asked if I were a Christian. I said yes, and she responded, “What is a Christian?” Much to my shame, I had never thought through a quick and decisive answer. I was working on a Ph.D. but had not thought through this most important of all questions. The bus came in two minutes and she got on.

I didn’t go to the office that day. I went back to the dorm and started reading and praying, working on an answer I could give in two minutes. I spent much of the next day looking for her on campus but never found her.

So what would you say? Remember, you know nothing about the person, and you can see the bus coming. You have two minutes. You don’t want to say too much, but you don’t want to say too little You want to say enough so that if she responds, either now or later, then she truly is a follower of Christ. But you don’t want to say too much and make the decision harder for her.

What would you say? Yes, the trailhead at the beginning of our spiritual journeys are all somewhat different, and yet there must be a common thread running through them. There must be the non-negotiables.

For example, John tells us that if you deny the reality of the Incarnation, that Jesus came in the flesh, you are the spirit of the antichrist (1 John 4:2-3). Does our two minute answer include the dual nature of Christ?

Jesus also says that we should count the cost of following him (Luke 14:26-28).

Paul says a person must “confess with  your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in  your heart that  God raised him from the dead” (Rom 10:6), and yet Jesus says there will be many at the judgment seat who did many miracles in his name and yet were not true followers (Matt 7:22ff.).

I made a nuisance of myself for several years by asking everyone I could, especially academics, “What is the minimum it takes to get into heaven?” It was always interesting to me which of my academic acquaintances could answer the question, and who couldn’t.

Some replied, “That is the wrong question.” My answer always was, “Someone you will never see again just asked you the question, and the bus will be there in two minutes. Go!”

Some would still respond, “It can’t be answered in two minutes. It is the wrong question.”

My response? “You now have less than two minutes.”

How would you respond? The question isn’t rhetorical or academic. It is life and death. How would you respond?


  • J. Joseph Porter 7 years ago

    A Christian is anyone who has believed, repented, and been baptized – no?

  • Sheldon Clowdus 7 years ago

    Faith in Jesus Christ and repentance of sin.

  • Mark Denning 7 years ago

    A Christian is someone who worships Jesus as God and believes that his life, death, and resurrection is the central event no only of human history but of their own individual story as well.Do you believe that?

  • Henry Jansma 7 years ago

    My response is first, “Which is your bus and where are you going?” Upon receiving my answer I would toss my priorities aside and join my friend on his/her bus, going the entire journey with them.

  • Steve 7 years ago

    elevator pitch:

    We can only be righteous and find favor with God through belief in His Son. Because God graciously sought us out, and sent His Son to take our place, die our death, we can now truly live. Through faith, we become sons and daughters of the King, and will live in His kingdom forever.

  • richard 7 years ago

    A Christian is one who, in recognition of their sinfulness and hopelessness before a holy and rightous God, trusts in Jesus as their savior, the Son of God who lived a perfect life, died in the place of sinful people, was raised to life on the third day, and now promises eternal life to anyone who believes this message.

  • Ron Thomas 7 years ago

    If the question is, “What is a Christian?” does it need to take two minutes or less? I would answer simply, “I am one who patterns my life after the life of Christ.” This is brief enough to make a quick answer, and broad enough to encourage the one who heard to inquire further if there is desire. However, to “quanitize” a minimum is unfortunate because is it simply a matter of meeting a legal minimum? To give a biblical answer is the correct answer (as no doubt you would agree with).

  • Nathan Reddick 7 years ago

    “What is the minimum it takes to get into heaven?”

    Answer: Perfection! So thankful for the active obedience of Christ (his merited righteousness achieved as our surety through his fulfillment of the original Covenant of Works) imputed to the believer by faith alone. No hope without it!

  • Kevin Corbin 7 years ago

    Acknowledgement of our sin, repentance, faith in what Christ has done and a profession of His Lordship. So much for salvation. Of course there is much more needed for orthodoxy which takes more than 2 minutes.

  • Jeremy Myers 7 years ago

    Believe in Jesus for eternal life. That is it.

    Which Jesus, you say?

    Jesus Christ, the one spoken about in the Bible, who lived about 2000 years ago. He was God in the flesh, lived a sinless life, died for our sins, and was raised again from the dead.

    By believing in this Jesus, you are given eternal life.

  • David A Booth 7 years ago

    “A Christian is someone who has responded to the good news of what God has accomplished in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus by trusting in Jesus and following him.”

    I know that this is a long sentence, but I have found it helpful in evangelism because I can immediately follow-up by asking:

    1. Can I tell you about the good news of what God has accomplished in Jesus?
    2. Can I tell you what it means to trust in Jesus? And …
    3. Can I tell you what it means to follow Jesus?

    If you are engaged in an actual conversation this will take more than two minutes, but I have certainly been able to introduce this framework and then explain the gospel in about three minutes.

    My initial response (in quotation marks above)also makes it clear that God has done something great that we are responding to. In my experience, most non-Christians turn this basic Biblical truth on its head. They instinctively believe that Christianity is about our being good enough to get God to respond favorably to us.

  • Jeffrey Gordon 7 years ago

    “God is Creator of all things, and is utterly holy, just, and loving. Man was created by God, but chose to rebel against God’s rule (which rebellion we call ‘sin’), God’s unalterably holy and just nature required that every person be judged and condemned for their sin. But because God is also loving, He sent His own Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer and die on the cross as payment, not for His own sin (He had none), but in the place of those condemned sinners. If anyone turns from sin (renounces their right to self-rule) and entrusts their life to Christ, God will consider Christ’s death on the cross to have fully satisfied the just retribution for their sin, and will credit them with Christ’s own righteousness, thus accepting them ‘in Christ’. That makes them a Christian.”

    A long answer, but readable in about 1 minute actually. This is pretty much the gospel. The requirements were met by Christ. Even repentance and faith as response to the gospel are not properly “requirements-meeting” on the part of men, but simply the way we receive Christ and His all-sufficient provision. As far as those who claim to believe but don’t really, follow some heretically false Christ (like the Arians or Modalists), or trust in their own works rather than Christ alone, these are refinements which would take more time (and interaction). But the basic answer, I would think, remains the same.

  • Keat Lim 7 years ago

    Maybe our response should also incite curiosity.. something to invite the person to follow-up on our witness.

    So i would probably say ‘a follower of Jesus’.

  • Jim McNeely 7 years ago

    I would start with this scripture:

    “10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” 1John 4:10

    At its root, faith is the belief that God is real, and that He loves you, and Jesus bore the weight of everything that would stand in the way of that love. You express that faith by saying so in prayer to God.

    If I had any more time, I might say:

    Your only repentance is to go now, boldly, to the throne of grace, and receive grace and mercy to help in your time of need. The pharisee proclaimed his deeds but the tax gatherer only confessed and was justified. He does not require anything but the tiniest seed of faith in His love, in His justification. Because He greatly loves, He hates ALL evil done to you, and ALL evil you have done. Jesus Christ has born the wrath of that hatred, and all you must do is believe that.

    Great question!

  • Bert de Haan 7 years ago

    The question sound like someone is trying to get away with as little as possible and still make it to heaven. In that sense it is indeed the wrong question to ask.
    Assuming that is not what is meant, the answer would be, total obedience to God’s will.
    None of us will achieve that simple requirement so we are in debt and would be damned if Jesus Christ didn’t pay our debts. As a Christian I believe this. That is the minimum it takes to get to heaven.
    It isn’t only the minimum but it is the only thing. Nothing can be added to it to increase our chances so to speak.
    If someone were to ask me at a bus stop, I’m afraid my answer wouldn’t be very eloquent and smooth.
    Thanks for this great discussion.

  • Ian Thomason 7 years ago

    Here’s how I respond when asked the question, ‘what is a Christian?’:

    “A Christian is someone who follows Jesus Christ; someone who believes that he’s God’s son. Would you like me to ‘unpack’ what that means?”

    When people say ‘yes’, the two minutes become ten. Or twenty. Or … :)


  • D 7 years ago

    “What is a Christian?” perhaps “Who is a Christian?” … a person who believes in the eternal life with God, who created us and everything in heaven and earth… a person who follows the ways of Jesus, the same God who became man, that I may believe that my sins are forgiven.. who person who yearns for the Holy Spirit, the same God, who speaks in my conscience and directs my free will to love others.

  • Robert 7 years ago

    Our 2 minute response (assuming a believing heart)might begin like this man, whose life nearly over, when he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” NIV & ESV Luke 23:42

  • Carl 7 years ago

    Heard a very helpful, succinct summary once…

    Christians believe that God created everything, sin wrecks everything, Jesus fixes everything, and God wants to use everything. (Source:Visual Valet)

    That takes about 20 seconds to say, leaving you over a minute and a half to explain any of the four that are necessary. :)